— Jaydip Chakrabarti
Agartala, January 25, 2019: Union Cabinet’s nod to amend Article 280 and the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution is set to usher in a new dawn in the hilly areas of the State and expedite developmental works in backward tribal hamlets. The Amendments will significantly improve management of financial resources and natural resources as well as administrative activities in Autonomous District Council (ADC) which after the Amendments would be renamed as ‘Autonomous Territorial Council’ (ATC). However, it is important to note that sufficient care should be taken to ensure eco-friendly development enhancing greenery and harnessing ecological aspects of the Hill areas.
Opinion leaders of indigenous communities hailed the Amendments with a word of caution – maintaining eco-system of the tribal society and its rich tradition are perhaps the most important in the era of growing Western influences and also, it is necessary to ensure that benefits percolate to grass root people with enhanced quality and quantity.
Of course, planners need to draw comprehensive plans for sustainable environment friendly development, it can safely be mentioned that the amendments will pave the way for long term economic and social benefits for indigenous people.
Looking from economic point of view, the amendments will have noticeable impact on socio-economic and livelihood issues of tribal people of the State.
The first and foremost benefit is that the Amendments make the Finance Commission specifically mandated to recommend devolution of financial resources to ATC in view of the fact that earlier the FC was not mandated as its ToR did not mention about fund transfer to Autonomous District Councils. In fact, the 14th FC completely left out all of the 587 Village Committees under erstwhile TTAADC areas from considering for grants.
Being less developed, these TTAADC areas, in fact, need more funds, the State Government argued while presenting demand-list to visiting members of 15th FC recently.
“TTAADC is under developed and moreover, most of the areas are hilly. It covers around 68 per cent of areas of the State spread across the eight districts”, sources said and added, more investment in TTAADC areas are required, not only for socio-economic upliftment of inhabitants, it is required ‘for preventing resurgence of anti-national activities by opportunist elements’.
“The State Government demanded at least 10 per cent of the total funds devolved to Local Bodies should be earmarked for grants to excluded areas”, highly placed sources said. Here excluded areas mean ADC areas.
The amendments – apart from mandating FC for fund devolution to ATC – will also boost livelihood options for rural-hilly people. A detailed look at the Government report relating to the Amendments shed lights on several important socio-politico-economic areas which will be benefited in medium to long term period.
The grass root democracy will receive a boost as the Village Councils (VCs) will be empowered for preparation of plans for economic development and social justice. The VCs will now be empowered to chalk out plans in relation to agriculture, land improvement, implementation of land reforms, minor irrigation, water management, animal husbandry, rural electrification, small scale industries and social forestry. Tripura with around 74 per cent forest cover areas, systematic planning by local inhabitants to utilize the forest resources will help to augment livelihood options as well as contribute in combating climate change issues.
Another important implication is reservations of at least one-third of seats for women in the village and municipal councils in the Sixth Schedule areas in the State and at least two of the nominated members in all autonomous councils in the North East Sixth Schedule areas resulting in empowerment of women. It is a rational expectation that involvement of women-folk will ensure better management and utilization of forest resources for the welfare of individuals and society.
Despite all the good intention, it is important to preserve and nurture indigenous cultural heritage at the same time ensure benefits of quality education, health care etc along with sustainable livelihood options. Striking a balance between the economic and customary tradition is now the prime challenge as avenues for blaming or holding central government responsible for under-development in hill areas have narrowed considerably – it’s time to perform sensibly. (First Published in Tripura Times on January 24, 2019)